AT&T: AT&T has a bundle of nice BOGO and rebate deals on name-brand Android and Apple flagships for DirecTV customers: Buy two iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, XS Max, Samsung Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9 Plus, Galaxy Note 9, or LG V35 ThinQ smartphones on AT&T Next and enjoy between $700 and $900 back in bill credits toward the value of the second phone (the rebate amount varies by model). If you don’t want to buy two and/or you’re not a DirecTV customer, then you can still get up to $600 back on a Galaxy S9, S9 Plus, or Note 9 with an eligible trade-in.
RootMetrics uses cars set up with “leading Android-based smartphones for each network” to gather figures on data, talk, and text performance throughout the country. Its coverage map encompasses basically every major US city street, boulevard, and highway, as well as all of the towns and thoroughfares that connect them. You can also get reports tailored to specific metropolitan areas. This amount of detail makes RootMetrics a great source for gauging overall performance by region.
Consumer Cellular’s prices aren’t quite as low as those of other resellers, but the company offers major savings in lower data-usage situations—the service is $15 to $30 cheaper if you expect to use 3 GB or less a month. Infrequent callers can get further savings by choosing one of Consumer Cellular’s lower voice allotments. And as the website reminds visitors, the company offers a 5 percent AARP discount. It blocks tethering by default but will enable that feature if you ask. And Consumer Cellular offers installment-plan purchase options with roughly the same terms as the majors do.
As for talk and text amounts, all of the postpaid plans from the major carriers provide unlimited calling and messaging, so in theory you don’t even have to compute those numbers. But many prepaid and resold services allow you to save money if you’re willing to stay within certain limits. The best way to figure out how many texts or calls you send or make is to consult your billing statement.
As of this writing, Sprint still offers a particularly attractive incentive to leave your current carrier behind: It will give you free unlimited data for the next year, though you're still on the hook for taxes and fees. After November 30, 2019, your bill reverts to Sprint's standard rate for unlimited data, which is listed as $60 for a single line. The big caveat: You need to bring over an eligible phone to qualify for free data. (Since the deal is geared toward AT&T and Verizon customers, there's a better chance your phone is eligible if it came from those carriers.) The offer is listed as a limited-time deal, but Sprint has kept it around since the summer of 2017.
Among the basic-economy, entry-level versions of unlimited data, Sprint deserves some credit for requiring the fewest compromises beyond the streaming-video 480p resolution enforced by all four: Sprint’s Unlimited Basic, $60 for one line, still includes 500 MB of LTE hotspot use (more than I use in most months) and overseas roaming (though at slower speeds). T-Mobile Essentials, at $60, offers only free texting overseas—international voice and data are extra—and limits hotspot use to 3G speeds (although OpenSignal rated its 3G downloads highest among all four). Verizon’s $75 Go Unlimited caps hotspot use at a punitive 600 Kbps, while AT&T’s $75 Unlimited & More bans hotspot use outright.
I thought this would be a relatively simple matter until I started analyzing the technical issues involved. The solution was further complicated because most of the customer agents I spoke with for the different carriers really did not understand their own service offerings and many said that prepay phones could not be used for roaming in foreign countries.
RootMetrics strives to be as comprehensive as possible in its methodology, which includes testing reliability and speed during file uploads and downloads, while downloading email, and while downloading files similar to typical web pages. Testers also measure how reliably each network places and maintains calls and how reliably and quickly subscribers can send and receive text messages.
Although prepaid and MVNO plans are cheaper, data is typically limited to around 3 GB; the highest cap we were able to find was 10GB. In other words, these plans are only going to work if you use very little data. You also won’t have access to lightning-fast load times or recently released smartphones. You’ll need to stick with a major carrier for either of these perks.
If you need a lot of data more than you need the widest coverage, the T-Mobile One unlimited plan, augmented by the $15 One Plus add-on to enable full-speed tethering, is a well-priced plan (even after recent T-Mobile price hikes for One Plus) on a network that still provides pretty good coverage. T-Mobile’s network isn’t quite as good as Verizon’s—you’ll likely encounter more places where you can’t get a signal—but it’s still good, and third-party studies (for example, ones from PCMag and OpenSignal) report that a few years of upgrades have boosted T-Mobile above AT&T and Sprint. T-Mobile also bests Verizon in terms of international-roaming plans, and a wider variety of phones work on T-Mobile’s GSM network than Verizon’s CDMA network (though the best phones are available for both).
Due to constantly shifting promotions and terms, family-plan pricing is difficult to sort through. Our Verizon single-line pick isn’t competitive here because all of the lines on a Verizon subscription share the same data bucket. Verizon’s largest capped-data option is 8 GB, so if that won’t cover your family’s usage, you have to upgrade to more expensive unlimited data plans: $130 for two lines of not-so-versatile Go Unlimited and its limits on mobile-hotspot and streaming-video use ($160 for Beyond Unlimited), or $160 for four lines of Go Unlimited ($200 for four lines of Beyond Unlimited).
As pricey as Verizon's Above Unlimited plan may be, it could be worth it if business takes you overseas on a monthly basis, thanks to the addition of some complimentary TravelPasses. For infrequent travelers taking short trips, programs like Verizon’s TravelPass or AT&T’s International Day Pass will likely be good enough. But again, T-Mobile offers the most appealing international coverage, especially once it launches its $5 On Demand Pass in August.
Unlimited Tablet Plan: Incl. unlimited texting on capable tablets & data with mobile optimized video streams at up to 480+ resolution, music at up to 500kbps, streaming gaming at up to 2 Mbps. Add Unlimited premium resolution streaming for add'l. $20/mo./line & get video streams at up to 1080+, music at up to 1.5 Mbps, gaming at up to 8 Mbps. Data deprioritization applies during times of congestion. After the 10GB, MHS, VPN & P2P usage will be limited to 2G speeds. Third-party content/downloads are add'l. charge. Int'l. svc. are not incl.
T-Mobile offers one of the simplest solutions for traveling overseas. If you subscribe to the company’s T-Mobile One unlimited plan or are clinging to one of its Simple Choice plans with tiered data, you automatically get unlimited data and texting in more than 140 countries around the world. As of July 22, that number will grow to 210 places, T-Mobile says. If you want to place or receive calls, you’ll be subject to the local rate depending on where you want to go. You don’t need to notify T-Mobile of your travel.
Verizon’s network is still better than T-Mobile’s, but that advantage is less pronounced for data. Automated drive testing by the research firm RootMetrics that rate T-Mobile poorly include lagging grades for voice and text use, while they show T-Mobile as a respectable third place for speed and data. PCMag currently ranks T-Mobile as a very close second to Verizon, while OpenSignal’s test results say that T-Mobile is now actually ahead of Verizon in speed and data. And though T-Mobile’s GSM-based network—which lets you talk and use data simultaneously, unlike Verizon’s—has historically leaned on higher-frequency bands that don’t reach as far inside buildings, that’s getting better. That GSM foundation also means that T-Mobile is compatible with more phones than Verizon is, including virtually every unlocked phone you can buy.
Our rates to make and receive phone calls and for mobile data are small fractions of what the major carriers charge and typically with better coverage and faster data speeds and with transparent pricing. With Cellular Abroad, the service is pay as you go so you never need to worry about how much you are spending. International cellular service is what we do and what we know best.
International cell phone options are as varied as travel styles. The always-on-the-go globetrotter who spends her morning in Europe and goes to sleep in North Africa probably carries her own high-tech international calling device. The college student studying in Italy may have a local cell phone that only works in his overseas home. The leisure traveler who wants a cell phone in case of emergency on her yearly vacation may rent a phone and drop it in the mail when she returns home.
The phone is perfect except for two weird things. One is that its country setting is rigged for Canada and there's no way of changing it. The other, more serious, is that putting a finger on the side above SD card somehow affects touchscreen functionality, though the problem will likely go away when I buy a protective case. All in all, a great bargain.
Metro and Boost charge the same $30 to add extra lines to one of their data plans. That means a family of four would pay the same $140 a month for unlimited data on every line. We give the nod to Metro, because the network of its parent company T-Mobile performs better on our test than that of Boost parent Sprint. We also like its included Google One storage, though Boost offers more hotspot data with its plan.
Once you know what you’ll need, and from which providers, it’s time to compare the costs and find the best phone deals for you. You’ll want to factor in any taxes and fees, as well as additional features that increase the overall value of your package. If you have several lines to add, look for promotions that take down the price for family plans. And don’t skip out on auto-pay; it saves you $5 with every carrier.
Finally, you’ll need to buy and install a local SIM (subscriber identification module) memory chip that will work in the country you’re visiting. This little circuit stores information like your identity, local cell phone number, address book information, and other bits of data. When you put a local SIM chip in your phone, it’s like getting a brand new phone that will work on the local mobile carrier’s network. The chip does need to be activated so you can either go to a mobile store in the country you’re visiting and have everything taken care of on the spot, or try to order one in advance and activate it online.
Wirefly offers great deals on a large selection of smartphones, cell phones, tablets, mobile hotspots, and other wireless devices for the nation's most popular carriers. Use Wirefly’s innovative cell phone and plan comparison tools to ensure you are getting the best deal on the market. Shop with confidence knowing that Wirefly wants to help you find the best prices on cell phones, cell phone plans, TV, and Internet service.
Selecting a network is the trickiest part of picking a plan. Coverage can vary from block to block or even building to building, so carrier coverage maps can be a good starting point only if you can zoom in to the street level—and even then they say nothing about how the network fares in areas with many devices using it. OpenSignal, PCMag, and RootMetrics all publish independently sourced network-performance metrics, but those studies take different approaches and are thus good for different purposes. (When using these metrics, and a carrier’s own coverage maps, don’t forget to check a network’s coverage in frequent business or vacation destinations.)
Clean Slate (formerly contract buyout) offer: Clean Slate: Amount based on ETF (early termination fee) charged or remaining phone balance. Req. port from other carrier to Sprint, remain active & in good standing for 30 days before card issuance & buyback of working phone in good condition (the device is unlocked, powers on and there are no broken, missing or cracked pieces) tied to offer. Phone must be deactivated & all personal data deleted. Device will not be returned. Reg, & submit final bill with ETF or phone balance w/in 60 days of switching at sprint.com/joinsprint. Allow 15 days after registration approval for Reward Card arrival. Excl. discounted phones, 100+ Corporate-liable, prepaid & ports made between Sprint or related entities. Prepaid Mastercard: Card is issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC, pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated. No cash access or recurring payments. Unused funds will forfeit after the valid thru date. Card terms and conditions apply.